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ISLAMABAD: Building on the new-found goodwill generated after US President Donald Trump’s request for help with Afghan peace and reconciliation process, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday pitched restoration of full-spectrum engagement to the United States.

Talking to US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr Khan highlighted the need for strengthening regular bilateral engagement in key areas of trade, investment, education, health and social sector development.

Bilateral discussions on all these areas were previously covered under a strategic dialogue, which was held annually at the ministerial level. While six rounds were held between 2010 and 2016, no meeting under the strategic dialogue has been held since Mr Trump assumed office.

Need for regular cooperation in trade and other key areas highlighted in talks with American special envoy Khalilzad

The relations between the two countries deteriorated under Trump presidency and at the start of this year Washington ended all aid for Pakistan. Just a fortnight ago, Mr Trump in an interview with Fox News defended his move to stop aid saying Pakistan didn’t do “a damn thing for us” and charging the country let Osama bin Laden hide there.

The bilateral discussions, meanwhile, have been Afghanistan focused with very little bilateral substance. Amb Khalilzad is in Islamabad for discussions with Pakistani leadership on how Pakistan could help in jump-starting peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government so that the war in Afghanistan could be brought to an end.

While this was his third trip to Islamabad since assuming office that is working to advance Afghan reconciliation, Mr Khalilzad’s latest visit was preceded by a letter from President Trump to Prime Minister Khan seeking Pakistan’s support for the Afghan peace initiative. The government immediately welcomed President Trump’s call for cooperation on Afghan peace.

The Trump letter seems to have renewed hopes in Islamabad about improvement in bilateral relationship after all the acrimony generated by the American president’s tweets and statements on Pakistan over the past nearly a year and half.

Mr Khan, the PM Office said, appreciated President Trump’s letter and the US assurance to work with Pakistan on the shared objective. He recalled his personal commitment to regional peace and harmony and reminded the US senior diplomat about Pakistan’s interest in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan through political settlement.

According to the PMO statement, Amb Khalilzad said the US leadership looked forward to working with Islamabad in furthering the shared goal of peace through a political settlement in Afghanistan. At the meeting, PM Khan was assisted by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Asim Munir.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018

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